Review / The Elephant Thief

20220123ma_0196Book: The Elephant Thief (2018)
Author: Jane Kerr
Genre: MG, Historical [1870s]


Opening lines from the book …
He couldn’t breathe. His lungs were pumping. His lips were open. But there still wasn’t enough air. The sack covering his head blocked everything. His nose. His eyes. His mouth. Fear burnt in his stomach, sharp and acidic.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I liked our introduction to Boy (later named Danny). He’s an orphan who doesn’t remember his parents, so it made sense to me that he wouldn’t necessarily have a name. (I’ll talk more about the name Danny later on.)

2) And then there’s Maharajah, the elephant! There’s something about elephants that people (read: me) love in books. And I particularly loved the connection between Boy/Danny and Maharajah.

3) Then there’s the man who buys Maharajah. He’s a very P.T. Barnum-like character… quite the showman. I wasn’t sure whether or not to like him, or trust him, all the time. But then, I noticed how he treats Danny. And even ultimately how he treats Maharajah. And then there’s his wife. I like that she’s able to temper some of the flamboyance. 

4) There’s a good antagonist in the rival zookeeper. It was nice to see the juxtoposition between the P.T. Barnum character (Mr. Jameson) and the other man (who also runs a different zoo and wanted Maharajah for himself). As the story progresses, we see that the rival doesn’t really care about the animals.

5) While this story is fiction, there is fact and history behind it! There really was an elephant named Maharajah who had to walk across the country.

6) I liked the element of therace. And especially, the mystery of who was trying to sabotage said race … It kept me reading. 🙂

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

The only thing I thought that could have improved this book was for narrator to keep calling the protagonist ‘Boy’ rather than ‘Danny’. At least for most of the book. The other characters could still call him ‘Danny’, but I think there should have been a moment, a big moment, when boy takes the name Danny for himself. And that should have come at the end of the book!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I enjoyed reading this book. I’d recommend for anyone who likes historical fiction, or elephants!

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Truly Tyler

20220113ma_0115Book: Truly Tyler (2021)
Author: Terri Libenson
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Graphic Novel
Companion Book to: Invisible Emmie


Opening lines from the book …
Sometimes I look around the cafeteria at lunch and wonder why everything is set the way it is. Why the jocks sit near the front. And the Science Club kids sit in back. And the manga kids sit near the ice cream freezer. Why the volleyball team sits near the windows and the orchestra kids sit near the tray conveyor belt. Which, by the way, is kinda unfortunate.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) While Tyler is definitely the main POV in this book, there’s always another POV. And this time it’s … Emmie! I loved being back with Emmie!

2) I also enjoyed some resolution to the Brianna/Sarah jealousy (mostly on Brianna’s part). And of course, it gets complicated because suddenly Emmie starts to question her friendship with Sarah. Sarah might be just a little bit too unique for the middle school crowd. But don’t worry, it works itself out.

3) Again, since this book is mainly in Tyler’s POV, we do get to meet Tyler’s family. He feels like he’s being left out from his older brother’s life, but they eventually connect. I really like how the brother helps Tyler see beyond the basketball. And then there’s the dad. And his dad new wife who is always cutting in on their phone time! I like how, by the end of the book, even a clueless dad gets some redemption.

4) There’s a fun double story with the graphic novel that Emmie and Tyler are working on. It’s neat to see how that comes together.

5) And finally, we have to talk about Joe Luongo. If you remember from the first book, he’s Tyler’s friend who made all that trouble over Emmie’s letter! What a troublemaker. But I like how this book deals with such a character. We get to see a little more into the mind of Joe through Tyler and even with Joe’s lame interactions with Sarah. I actually felt a little sympathy for this character with this book!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I enjoyed this latest book in the Invisible Emmie series. I particularly liked having Emmie’s POV once more. And it’s fun to know more and more of the characters. It’s like being back in middle school again! 😉

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / The Science of Breakable Things

20210120ma_0200Book: The Science of Breakable Things (2018)
Author: Tai Keller
Genre: MG, Contemporary [STEM]

Basic plot: Natalie’s botanist mom is locked away in her room, dealing with depression, and Natalie doesn’t know what to do about it. Then she hits on a way that might bring Mom back. If only she can win the money from an egg drop contest, she and her mom can travel to see the blue orchids that survived against impossible odds. With some good friends helping her, they’re sure to win, right? 

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I was definitely rooting for Natalie in this book. When we meet her, she’s already dealing with a mom who’s gone into a severe depression. And her dad’s doing the best he can but slips into counselor-mode (his job). Sometimes, it’s hard to read about people with depression. But this is very much a reality in our world, and it’s also good to know that other kids are dealing with this type of thing as well. 

2) Natalie, of course, has a quirky friend named Twig. And even though I’m usually averse to names like that, in this case, it works for me. (She’s actually named after Twiggy, the model from the 60s.) Anyhow, Twig is a bright spot in Natalie’s world. And like how Keller also brings in (Slight Spoiler) Dari, the nerdy kid they team up with. (End Spoiler)

3) And then there’s the teacher, Mr. Neely! I love this guy. With all his enthusiasm and hashtags, he’s a memorable character. (More on the hashtags later.) I love how he gets Natalie to work on the Egg Drop.

4) And on to the Egg Drop! Okay, this was definitely the fun part of the book. Seeing the designs sketched out in illustration was great. To me, this seemed like it should have been the climax, but it wasn’t quite.

5) I did already briefly mention the illustrations, but I’m going to bring them up again. I think illustrations worked particularly well in this book due to the scientific process being highlighted.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) (SPOILER!) MC finds out that the blue orchid she and her mother were growing (the one that her mom let die) is really a blue iris. As the daughter of a botanist, she didn’t notice? In my limited gardening experience, orchids can, well, live practically forever, but irises die quite quickly (within a few days at best). This whole depression thing has been going on for a while, so the timeline doesn’t make sense to me. (End Spoiler)

2) The waste of perfectly good eggs was hard for my frugal-non-food-wasting brain to read about!

3) Another teeny-tiny thing that bothered me was that Mr. Neely would sometimes put the letter ‘z’ instead of ‘s’ at the end of his hashtags. I’m fine with the hashtags. But I do like correct spelling, especially when it comes to #teacherz … (It pained me to write that!)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love the idea of a book about an egg drop. I never did one myself, but when I taught school, the sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade science classes did one. They dropped the eggs from the roof of our three-story building. (I can’t remember if any of their eggs survived or not!) Anyhow, if you can handle the sad parts of Natalie’s mom (i.e. a mom dealing with depression), and want to read about egg drops, then I’d recommend this book for you.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Keep it Together, Keiko Carter

Keep it Together Keiko CarterBook: Keep it Together, Keiko Carter (2020)
Author: Debbi Michiko Florence
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Keiko is best friends with Audrey and Jenna. They decide to make it the goal of the new school year by getting boyfriends. But things become complicated when Jenna and Audrey fall for the same boy. And then Keiko has to deal with her first crush; the confusing behaviour of Audrey’s brother, Conner; her mom being perpetually gone; and just all-around trying to keep everything together…

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Keiko is best friends with two girls: Jenna and Audrey. I love this dynamic. Seeing the three girls interact at the beginning is wonderful. Of course, because it’s a book, there’s got to be some conflict to appear and it certainly does.

2) I loved the dog connection in this book! Conner’s dog, Lumpy, is such a fun addition. I just wish there had been more to the animal shelter part of the book. It might have been nice to have Keiko volunteer at the shelter, only to discover that Conner volunteered there as well! (And make it more awkward.)

3) The chocolate references throughout the book are fun. I like how Keiko makes her special spicy hot chocolate (such weird ingredients! I do wonder how it tastes) and how that fits in with the plot. Especially with regards to Audrey and Conner.

4) There was some great tension with the mom being gone all the time. And then, tying that into Jenna’s parents who just got a divorce. I liked how that all came to a head and got resolved.

5) I liked the scenes with the sister, Macy. Especially with her little secret that she’s keeping from Keiko. (Slight Spoiler) It’s theatre-related. (End Spoiler)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I didn’t really like the ending with regards to Audrey. I wanted a better, more satisfying ending. (Spoiler Alert!) Keiko ends up as Conner’s girlfriend, and I don’t see why Audrey doesn’t think this is a good thing. Keiko and Conner could get married and they’d be sisters!! Instead, Keiko chooses Conner over Audrey. I would have liked it if Audrey figured out that choosing doesn’t have to be a part of her world. (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

A cute book about middle school dating. I’m not usually crazy about these types of books (I’d rather keep it at first crushes in middle school and save the dating for YA), but this one worked. I would recommend to young people who are looking for a little sweet romance!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Real Friends and Best Friends

Real & Best FriendsBook: Real Friends (2017) & Best Friends (2019)
Author: Shannon Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel/Memoir

Basic plot: This is author Shannon Hale’s memoir about her awkward middle grade years. Set in the 1980s, Little Shannon struggles with growing up, and especially with the complicated nature of friendships. These two follow her life journey as she finds her place in the world… and the discovery that she’s a writer at heart. 

*Note: I’m reviewing two books for the price of one in this blogpost!

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Normally, I save this for last, but I wanted to bring up the Author Notes at the end of the book. I really enjoy reading what’s true and what’s been changed for the story. (Note: Most character names have been changed!) As a memoir, the plot revolves around her memories of that time, which she stresses are from her POV. I love how she mentions a few things she wishes were different (like how she could have become friends with the younger girl in the hedge). Also, in the second book, it was fun to see that the fantasy-writing by Little Shannon are based on her real writing at that time!

2) The complicated nature of friendship in middle school is portrayed in all its awkward glory. Poor Little Shannon! Such a yo-yo ride where she’s friends sometimes and other times, not.

3) I loved how the sixth graders (Zara and Veronica) make friends with Shannon (in the first book). I think it’s so important to show that friendships can span different years. It was also great to see the older girls embrace Shannon’s creativity as they join in her imaginary-play games… Yes, even though as sixth-graders, they’re too cool for school.

4) The relationship with Wendy (the sister) is pretty intense at times. I’m glad that it gets worked out in the course of the books. And to know that things became much better in their adult years (via the Author Note). 

5) And that scene depicted on the cover of the second book! I felt for Shannon with regards to her fear of roller coasters. I too had a bad experience on a roller coaster. (Nobody told me I could close my eyes. At five years old, I did the whole ride with my eyes open! Note: Like Shannon, due to peer-pressure, I did go on roller coasters I was in high school (with eyes closed, because I learned that it’s okay to close your eyes!). However, in my 20s and 30s, I learned that I don’t need to put myself under such stress anymore for fear of trying to fit in with the crowd! Let others enjoy the roller coasters!)

6) I liked the little “notes” in front of each chapter. “Do you want to be best friends? (check one) Yes! No Maybe”. Cute! (And very middle-school.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Since these books take place in the 1980s, there were a few historical references that popped in. And then they kind of popped out again because they didn’t really go anywhere. This felt a bit disjointed to me. For example: the reference to the Challenger tragedy. Perhaps this could have been better dealt with in a regular novel, but it seemed stilted in this one.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really did enjoy these two graphic novels! And I do think the graphic novel was the right way to go for this memoir. I would recommend the books to fans of Shannon Hale, but they’re also good to get a glimpse at how hard middle school can be… to know that you can get through those years.

Note: In many ways, this book reminded me of the Sunny graphic novel series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: All’s Faire in Middle School

alls-faireBook: All’s Faire in Middle School (2017)
Author: Victoria Jamieson
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Imogene and her family are part of the Renaissance Faire family. And this year, she’s been promoted to be her dad’s squire. Every weekend, they live in a world of knights and dragons; during the week, Imogene has to navigate middle school. After being homeschooled, this is her first taste of education in the classroom… and, well, she’s finding it difficult to figure out all the unwritten rules. This leads to her trying a few things that don’t exactly end up the way she intended, which includes a suspension from school and estrangement from her younger brother.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Renaissance Faire setting is super fun. We get hermits and dragons and queens! It was interesting to learn about all the behind-the-scenes things that happen. I like how Imogene learns to make her “street” performance her own.

2) The odd friendship between Imogene and Anita is completely realistic… having your “school friends” and your “faire friends”. It happens, especially in middle school! And then, of course, there’s the rift. But I liked how Jamieson resolved everything by the end of the story.

3) At times, Felix drove me batty—I definitely saw why Imogene could lose her temper because of his antics. Still, there were other times when I thought he was a cute little brother. He adores Imogene, but… just as he’s fierce in his love, he’s also fierce in his unforgiveness.

4) I liked the relationship between Imogene and the “Princess” Violet, especially as she helps Imogene prepare her presentation for the dreaded Science class. One of my favourite moments is what Violet says to Imogene when Imogene dismisses the princess in the story of St. George and the Dragon. Violet brings up the princess’s courage and kindness as positive attributes, something to admire. I sometimes feel saddened at the backlash against the princess trope. (Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like a helpless princess who doesn’t have a thought in her head, but really, not all princesses are like that!) I like that Imogene, even if she herself doesn’t aspire to play the role of the princess, learns to respect that we all play different roles in life. And that’s a good thing.

5) Oh, those mean girls! The “friends” of Imogene. (Of course, there’s going to be a set in a story about middle school!) I love how Imogene is even warned by Anita about them. But, I also like how that whole story plays out.

6) I loved how the speech bubble for *Sigh* always seems to be dripping. I could just SEE the sigh!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish that [SPOILER] Imogene hadn’t found Felix’s squirrel, Tiffany (the one she throws away in the water). I mean, it’s nice for Felix, but it felt a little unrealistic to me. I wish Felix and Imogene could have come to a point where he’s able to forgive her, even without Tiffany making a comeback. [End Spoiler]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun book that merges dragons with middle school… but all set in our world. I would recommend, especially to those who want a good graphic novel to read.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday